1. Hey there Guest,

    The game servers have moved to semi-dedicated hardware and IPs have changed. Please see front page server widget for up-to-date game server information.

[GUIDE] Let's talk about lighting.

Discussion in 'Tutorials & Resources' started by tyler, Apr 13, 2012.

  1. tyler

    aa tyler snail prince, master of a ruined tower

    Messages:
    5,035
    Positive Ratings:
    4,499
    Let's talk about lighting.

    Lighting is very important in your map. I would say it affects probably every aspect of your map, from mood to playability to how well it is received among the general public. Lighting is a big deal and is not to be taken lightly (har har). Light leads players to points of interest (capture points, health, alternate routes). Brighter light makes identifying other players or items easier.

    Let's look at some pictures of Dustbowl.



    In the above screenshot, we can see that the capture point area is very brightly lit. This is done only with environment lighting (lighting cast from the skybox). Other areas, such as the far right path and the ditch (directly below and behind this picture) are left in shadow. It isn't pitch black, but it means that players focus their attention primarily at the point and the better lit paths. We can also see that the tunnels toward the second point on this stage are dimmer, but also relatively well lit. It creates a secondary objective in the mind of the player, a future goal.



    This is a similar example. Extraneous areas (the little hut between where BLU players emerge and the point) are left in shadow. Although light could be cast from the billboard, none is. Only directional environment lighting cues players to this area (besides the hologram, obviously). It's a great way to keep focus on one area.

    I want to show you this idea on another map in kind of a different way.



    The BLU spawn here is completely lit by the sun. The BLU logo is even kind of overly bright, which is fine in moderation (more on this later).



    Players are led to this area, which is a lot darker than BLU spawn. So if lighting is so great for cues and direction, what's going on here? Why light BLU spawn, which you don't really need to return to once leaving, rather than the goal--in this case CP1? I would say it's a kind of foreshadowing (har har).

    The RED facade here is dark, even though there are plenty of opportunities for lamps. Most of the bright areas are indoors, highlighting defensive holds. The brightest, whitest light is along the cart path, which still cues players towards an eventual goal. The overall dark facade sends a message: attacking this is hard.



    We see the same message again on the other side of the tunnel, but by this point the message is for RED, not BLU. Though there is plenty of opportunity to light the area, it's shadowed. Again, the light in the darker areas signify defensive holds (this time for BLU).



    The final goal is bright and well lit, and the long flanking path on the left is dimmer to indicate a less used path. The gates used in stage 2 are left very dark. The lamp above the spawn is left off to better highlight the contrast between CP2 and other areas.

    Taking this mind, it is important to remember that lighting isn't everything. Let's look at this screenshot of Upward.



    The area the cart goes through is very well lit (Upward has a very high environment lighting--if I remember right, it's 1000, maybe more). However, it's not the safest path and players must spend a long time on the turnaround to progress. It's very winding. Players will choose the darker paths (either under the blue building or under the cart path) more often as a means to better attack the enemy.

    Lighting wise, Upward is a very interesting map. Let's talk about cues now.



    In this, both paths for RED to counterattack (the tunnel and above the tunnel) are mostly very dark. Like with Goldrush, this is a subconscious cue telling players it is hard to attack. However, because of the bright light reflecting off the arrow sign, players are still encouraged to go that way. It's an uphill battle or a fight into an easily guarded cave, but people still do it.



    In this image, players entering the final area won't see the end of the track right away, but they will see the very bright D sign. The overall darkness compared to the rest of the map signifies an end: this is it.

    Cues can be used in many ways.



    The single point of interest in a room.



    A route you may miss otherwise.



    The entrances to an out of the way building (notice the light on the BLU overlay in RED territory, signifying a building BLU should own once they are in this area).



    Pickups.

    Making a cue is simple. You just have to think about it a little bit. Let's look at Dustbowl again.



    In this image we see a dark room often used by players. It could be lit any number of ways (ambient lighting from the window up top, lanterns, more ceiling lamps, etc), but instead the light focuses on the full health and full ammo.



    Valve has used a light cone with a 30 degree inner angle and a 65 degree outer angle, making the room somewhat lit with a bright center. They have foregone further lighting. The light is only at 400 brightness. I guarantee you when players run in this room they look for that health, every time.

    Alright, let's talk about night maps.

    I think night maps are great, but you have to do them right. I see a lot of great night maps and a lot of bad ones, and usually the easiest way to tell is the lighting. One of the biggest flaws I see is people not making their environment lighting bright enough. It's just night--not hell. It's not pitch black. Next time it's about midnight in whatever city you live in, walk outside and tell me if you can see. You probably can! This is what you're going for. Although night maps are darker than day maps, it's not an excuse to slack off on lighting. (People that live in rural areas: sorry, can't help you.)



    Examine these areas of Sawmill. All play areas are well lit and about as bright as the shadowy areas on regular day maps (though it's hard to tell because the contrast is so different). Bright lights are still used for cues and areas of importance, like spawn rooms, health, etc.

    But maybe Sawmill isn't moody enough for you? Maybe you want something that is actually at midnight? Let's look at Pipeline.



    Wow, this is dark! Except for the play area, that is, which is bright. Anywhere players are likely to be is very well lit. Areas that players cannot reach are left very dark to set the overall mood without impacting gameplay. Remember when lighting your night map that a facility or farm or whatever will still be lit at night, and spies/snipers can still take advantage of darker areas the same way they would on a daytime map.

    But let's look at how this is accomplished.



    Pipeline uses lights placed at the top of buildings (circled in red) to create dramatic, top down lighting. The tight cones on the light_spots gives us the stark dark/light areas at the top/bottom of structures. Finally, pay close attention to the light I have selected. You'll notice that nothing is casting this light. This is something used in Pipeline and other night maps all the time, and in some day maps too. Players don't notice this at all. In this case the light matches the tone of the other lights in the area, but for maps with more of an outdoor focus, you can use a brighter version of your environment lighting's color as well.



    Here is another good example of what I just mentioned. Think all that light is natural?



    It's not. Please, do not be afraid to make a night map bright. It's still a night map, and cues are still being used to highlight points of interest, but the main play areas--like we saw earlier in Dustbowl, Goldrush and Upward--are still the brightest lit areas of the map.



    Study this image of Doublecross. What do you see? Out of bounds areas are unlit, play areas are very bright. Tall streetlights make the random, high up lighting more believable in this case--an ambient, strong light like in the first Pipeline example would be less believable on the bridge. Notice how all the areas players emerge from are also well defined.

    Let's zoom in.



    The stairs, sniper perch and sewers are all well lit, and the rest really isnt. What's the idea here? Ensuring gameplay will be clear and fun--not frustrating.



    Not only is the lamp in this area casting light, but the windows are too. This is an underused trick, I think. It ensures that if a jump class gets on this roof, the players on the other team can know right away without being killed by someone that is effectively invisible.



    Since the sewers are a sneakier, more winding path into the base, the light coming from them is a bit darker. In this image, though the light is bright and strong, it's set back a ways into the tunnel. This keeps it more subtle and tells players this is a sneaky path.

    But it's not only night maps that might need phantom lighting or lighting help.

    Finally, let's look at my own map, Desertion. Now, I'm not the king of lighting my own maps--I'll admit I frequently just copy existing lights and use those most the time, until I reach late stages in development when I fine tune them. For Desertion, I copied most the lights from Upward.



    This is a shot from a late beta. It's definitely well lit and objectives are clear, but even the fine tuned lights I took from Upward weren't really doing enough.



    This is the same image (from a slightly different perspective). All I've done is add light_spots under the skylight with a low intensity and wide cones. The entire room is brighter, warmer, more interesting looking, and more fun to play in (har har). I haven't adjusted fog or anything else. Pretty amazing, right?

    That's pretty much it. As a summary, let me remind you: your map should be bright, well lit, and cue players towards objectives, pickups, or alternate routes. Night maps are no exception--it's still dead simple to set the mood while retaining a playable map. And finally, don't be afraid to try going brighter or using phantom lights to help out certain areas--players will not notice in game and in every case I've ever tried it, it's helped immensely.

    Edit: After a few responses I created an addendum to this post. Scroll down or click here to read it.

    I hope this helps!

    Something I missed or should make more clear? Let me know and I'll work it in.
     
    • Thanks Thanks x 32
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2016
  2. Tarry H Sruman

    Tarry H Sruman Large Orphanage Proprietor

    Messages:
    871
    Positive Ratings:
    1,010
    Small thing, but this sentence really bugged me: "Ensuring gameplay will be clear, not frustrating and fun."

    It sounds like you are contrasting clear with frustrating and fun.

    Otherwise, I was enlightened.
     
    • Thanks Thanks x 1
  3. tyler

    aa tyler snail prince, master of a ruined tower

    Messages:
    5,035
    Positive Ratings:
    4,499
    Thanks Tarry, I reworded that bit.

    PS: If anyone has an official map that has a good example of anything I talked about, let me know and I'll feature it.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 13, 2012
  4. ForbiddenDonut

    aa ForbiddenDonut

    Messages:
    391
    Positive Ratings:
    403
    An excellent guide on the development of player guidance and ambience setting via lighting.

    I'd be interested to see how the reverse of night maps is handled: maps that use extremely bright textures or environments. For example, the outdoor areas of Egypt and Coldfront. I suppose at that point, you have to utilize interesting architecture, clear layouts and proper (but not overdone) signage to get the desired effects.

    Good work, yyler.
     
  5. Fr0Z3nR

    aa Fr0Z3nR Creator of blackholes & memes. Destroyer of forums

    Messages:
    6,391
    Positive Ratings:
    5,464
    Well done.

    The trick of using wide spots above open area's to create false light actually isn't used THAT often, I think the only places I've seen it is in Foundry final (towards the ceiling, and it's just an omni-light) and in pipeline (and backlot, of course).

    Also, I believe Doublecross is the only map (okay, maybe pipeline, but I don't think so) to use the spots to add ambient light from the windows. It is a VERY underused trick, not only for creative lighting, but also for detailing.

    EDIT: @Donut, Egypt uses its torches and a similar technique to the sewers under doublecross. But instead of Dark to bright, it uses a bright to dark contrast. Coldfront uses gameflow, layout and architecture to note path ways on its exteriors.
     
    • Thanks Thanks x 2
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2012
  6. tyler

    aa tyler snail prince, master of a ruined tower

    Messages:
    5,035
    Positive Ratings:
    4,499
    I can go into this.

    It was also pointed out to me that I neglected to mention how to use colored lights effectively, so I will probably take care of both of those fairly soon.

    I swear I've seen both in other places, but damned if I can remember where now. Now that I am thinking of it, there are some other things I need to touch on about window lighting also.
     
    • Thanks Thanks x 1
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 13, 2012
  7. Fr0Z3nR

    aa Fr0Z3nR Creator of blackholes & memes. Destroyer of forums

    Messages:
    6,391
    Positive Ratings:
    5,464
    Most of the dark maps, Nightfall, sawmill, TM, Manor all have bright environmental lighting. Pipeline and Double cross have the darkest enviro lighting iirc. If you see it anywhere it'll probably be in there.


    It could also be in the connecting tunnels in Hydro.
     
  8. tyler

    aa tyler snail prince, master of a ruined tower

    Messages:
    5,035
    Positive Ratings:
    4,499
    Okay, let's talk about some nonstandard lighting that you might want to employ in your map.

    First, what if your map is washed out or very bright? In Coldfront and Egypt, one or two colors dominate the majority of the map. I'm going to talk about them specifically.



    In terms of light and color, Coldfront's outdoor areas are miserable. Gray and white dominate the scene. In this case, adding accent lights around pickups or health would probably not stand out or maybe just look worse. The fog really makes things look dull here. What did Icarus do instead? Careful placement of highlights using other materials, in this case props. One route is highlighted with a bright red arrow, and another has sheet metal over the top of it. Although putting sheet metal here may not have been to highlight the route in the first place, the reality is that it draws attention to this entrance to the point.



    Egypt is also washed out--but in a different way. Rather than being dull and lifeless, it's very bright. Similar to Dustbowl and Goldrush, dark caves indicate future goals that will be difficult to push through and/or important to hold. Important areas, like capture points, are noted with geometry that either gets more complex around the point (first image) or geometry that naturally flows to the point (second image) rather than spotlights or other lighting. All points on Egypt do this, in fact, while spawn rooms are usually in a darker area than the rest of the map.

    The thing to take away from these examples is that even in maps with lighting that isn't exactly normal, there are still ways to create cues and direct players that map makers can take advantage of.

    Let's move on to something else--colored lighting.

    They're somewhat underused, but strongly colored lights (for example, not a shade of very light blue, pink or yellow) can be utilized effectively in many maps.



    Mountain Lab is a great example of this (and other overlooked detail work!). In both screenshots we can see a soft red light applied to the gameplay sign props. How soft is this light? Very.



    As you can see, it's an almost pure red color with a very fast falloff distance and a very low brightness. What does this mean? The light is soft due to the brightness and doesn't cast very far due to the fade distances. This is a great way to ensure that your lighting seems more natural. Should this sign be projecting a spotlight or be illuminating the whole room? No. 3DNJ made the right move here.

    You'll also see the env_sprite on the camera in the pictures above--these can be used on computers too, and probably other things I'm forgetting right now. Blue, green and yellow lights could also be used.



    Nucleus is another example of a map using colored lights, but in this case it's a little different. Here, because the concrete makes the map all look very similar, it is easy to not know what side of the map you're on. Rather than use team specific concrete textures under this walkway (which is as neutral as an area gets on Nucleus), iika has used soft blue lighting to denote the BLU side of the map (and the other side has a soft red glow as well).



    This is a little different: it uses a tight bright cone and a wide dim cone to create a soft glow under the ramp. You'll also notice the light spots don't line up with the fixtures--it's not always important to line things up. Like phantom lighting, players won't notice and in a lot of cases the end result looks better than something that is "perfect".



    Here's more examples of soft lighting, this time from Gorge. Something I am not sure many people know about are the lighting textures--literally textures that emit light. The windows here are one example--the frames are a HL2 texture and the white behind them is just a brush that emits light.



    As you can see in this Hammer shot, the floor lights aren't really emitting a lot either. They have a very tight cone of brightness--25!--and a decently wide dimming cone. This is what helps to create the soft lighting throughout the RED base.

    Something else of note on Gorge, now.



    The way the environment lighting on the map is set up, light is naturally cast on the area that RED spawns from, particularly their main and most used exit. However, it leaves the point a little dark.



    Once again we see a phantom fill light. Ever heard someone complain that the skylight is producing an unbelievable amount of light and their immersion is ruined?

    Me neither.

    Alright, that about does it for my addendum. Let me know if you spot errors or have anything else to add.
     
    • Thanks Thanks x 20
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2016
  9. MangyCarface

    aa MangyCarface Mapper

    Messages:
    1,616
    Positive Ratings:
    1,309
    Wow, desertion is really intelligently lit. I may try to pester you for specific lighting advice at some point
     
  10. Little Dude

    Little Dude L4: Comfortable Member

    Messages:
    172
    Positive Ratings:
    54
    I always have troubles with lighting but this tutorial made things a lot clearer (ha ha). I will try to apply some of these techniques when I get back to building Wasteland. Thanks for the tutorial!
     
  11. tyler

    aa tyler snail prince, master of a ruined tower

    Messages:
    5,035
    Positive Ratings:
    4,499
    holy moses do I ever got butterflies now
     
    • Thanks Thanks x 1
  12. grazr

    aa grazr Old Man Mutant Ninja Turtle

    Messages:
    5,436
    Positive Ratings:
    3,768
    Yea, not man people realise/notice this, but particularly for darker maps the enviro lighting is a tad brighter than the skybox ambient values. Players wont notice a slight variance like that and the extra light is beneficial in several ways, but most importantly for gameplay.
     
  13. xzzy

    aa xzzy

    Messages:
    815
    Positive Ratings:
    500
    Though it's not strictly a lighting problem, texture use does have a significant effect on how lit an area "feels".

    A dark texture on the ceiling makes a space feel much more gloomy than one with a bright texture. Separating light sources from the ceiling by 100 units or more (and directing spotlights downwards) also has a significant effect on how much light bounces off the ceiling, which also impacts gloominess.

    This is important because the play area needs to be bright. By putting darkness where it does not make the game hard to play, you can still make a place feel dark. My favorite example of this is Sawmill. The interiors are pitch black on the ceilings, but I'd challenge you to find a player who says the map is too dark.
     
  14. tyler

    aa tyler snail prince, master of a ruined tower

    Messages:
    5,035
    Positive Ratings:
    4,499
    I can't believe I forgot about light bounce! This is really important.

    This is especially apparent when you move from dev textures to detailing--suddenly rooms are brighter or darker than before.

    It is important to note that you can also edit the .vmt file of the floor texture (or make a new one for corner cases) and increase the $reflectivity. I believe the $reflectivity value is in RGB, so you need to do it uniformly or you get weird colored reflections.
     
  15. Pocket

    aa Pocket func_croc

    Messages:
    4,489
    Positive Ratings:
    2,377
    And sometimes great lighting just drops into your lap.

    For example, when I started working on my map for the artpass contest, I had found an early-dawn skybox and light environment Supersandvich had made that I really liked, and decided on a whim to try it out in the map. As it turned out, the light direction was just perfect for highlighting the first two control points. All I had to do was move the prop signs provided so they would also be in the light, and presto.

    [​IMG]
     
    • Thanks Thanks x 3
  16. Boylee

    aa Boylee pew pew pew

    Messages:
    1,068
    Positive Ratings:
    696
    Thank you yyler, this guide cleared up several things for me, some of which I hadn't even thought much about.
     
    • Thanks Thanks x 1
  17. xzzy

    aa xzzy

    Messages:
    815
    Positive Ratings:
    500
    Yeah, I definitely suggest taking a breather before starting detailing to play with world lighting. PIck your skybox and run four builds of your maps.. rotating the map 90 degrees each time. You can also just update the environment lighting entity, but I'm not as big a fan of this because I like it to match up with the light source in the sky.

    At any rate, by rotating the map you can quickly identify which angle is best and save yourself a lot of work later trying to highlight certain areas. I wish we'd done this 9 months ago on Stoney Ridge.
     
  18. grazr

    aa grazr Old Man Mutant Ninja Turtle

    Messages:
    5,436
    Positive Ratings:
    3,768
    I think to a certain extent there is such a thing as over designing something and this is applicable to making sure the enviro light highlights all the major objectives; this will often be impossible and you shouldn't pull your hair out/spend hours trying to achieve it.

    Some of the guys here throw around that acronymm, "KISS": Keep It Simple Stupid. If you find things are getting a little complicated or overwhelming, scale back and go back to basics. I find this true for almost all areas of design.

    Personally i really dislike the use of phantom lights in anything other than the most awkawrd of scenario's (high ceilings, for example). In which case it's prudent to simply use more than 1 light source. Such as those 2fort floor lamps which are a great way to light floors by placing them on walls 32/64 units above the ground level.
     
  19. RaVaGe

    aa RaVaGe

    Messages:
    728
    Positive Ratings:
    1,194
  20. Pocket

    aa Pocket func_croc

    Messages:
    4,489
    Positive Ratings:
    2,377
    Speaking of light brushes, here's something else you might find useful, that I learned when I was poking around 2fort. You know that room in the basement with all the racks of tape reels?

    [​IMG]

    You probably guessed that those white brushes on the ceiling are light brushes. You would be correct; they're /lights/white002.vmt, a medium light level. But check out what they did to get more light projecting out of that room into the hallway:

    [​IMG]

    That's a brush with /lights/white001.vmt (low-level light) on the front side, set to func_illusionary and with the render mode set to "Don't Render." It still creates the light entities when it compiles, but the brush itself is completely invisible. Even though this is more light than should logically be emanating from the room, the effect looks perfectly natural.
     
    • Thanks Thanks x 12
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2012